Why Peyton Manning and Wes Welker Are a Match Made in Heaven
The Denver Broncos knew what they were doing when they signed free-agent wide receiver Wes Welker this offseason. While it's true that quarterback Peyton Manning already had two reliable targets in receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, both of whom had at least 1,000 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns last season, pairing Manning and Welker is a match made in Heaven.
It didn't take long before the Manning-Welker connection made its presence known around the NFL. The Broncos' performance Thursday night in their 49-27 win over the Baltimore Ravens and, more specifically, Peyton Manning's performance has set the bar for the rest of the high-powered offenses around the NFL to try to follow suit.
Welker finished the game with nine catches for 67 yards and two touchdowns. While those numbers are solid, they aren't of the same caliber as the video game-like numbers that Manning threw up against the Ravens defense. Manning finished the game 27-of-42 for 462 yards and seven touchdowns. It's not a typo, he threw seven touchdowns—in a single game.
It's easy to look at the career numbers of both Manning and Welker and come to some kind of a conclusion that they'd be a good fit together in Denver. Manning has thrown for just shy of 60,000 yards passing and Welker has just more than 8,500 yards receiving.
Any time you have a great receiver and you pair them with a great quarterback, you'd think good things are coming. But the Manning-Welker connection is more than just a "good" thing, it's a great thing, and there's a couple of plays listed below that show why that's true.
It's simple to look at touchdown plays as proof that things are going well for a quarterback-receiver duo. After all, scoring touchdowns is the whole goal of the offense anyway. But this first play below has more to do with Welker and Manning being on the same page with communication and audibles pre-snap.
You'll see on this play that the slot cornerback makes the mistake of tipping his hand early to Manning. Considering Manning is widely known for his ability to read defenses and put his offense in a position to make plays, this probably wasn't a good idea by the cornerback.
So Manning calls out a change to the offense after recognizing that the Ravens are bringing some pressure off the outside. The slot corner backs off and tries to make it look like he was bluffing, but he guessed wrong on the timing and Manning is looking to take advantage.
As soon as the ball is snapped. Manning gives a quick fake to the running back and then hits Thomas on the quick wide receiver screen, which becomes a 78-yard touchdown catch-and-run.
As soon as Thomas gets the ball, Welker is already in position to block the outside cornerback and give Thomas a lane to the open field.
Remember this was an audible at the line of scrimmage when Manning saw the blitz; Welker not only understood the change but also had the proper timing on the play to make it go for a big gain. It was a solid play from Welker, nothing spectacular, but it showed he has picked up not only the offense but has also deciphered Manning's pre-snap ritual and understands it.
Here's the video version of that play if you want to see it at full speed.
This second play shows another detail that might go unnoticed by most viewers during the live broadcast.
During Welker's five-yard touchdown catch, you can see he still possesses the athletic ability to make guys miss out in space. What's more impressive about these two photos is that Manning has already begun to throw the ball though Welker hadn't even turned around yet.
Much has been made recently over Manning's arm strength and whether it's still good enough. As you can see in this play below, it's tough to defend a perfectly thrown pass, regardless of how hard it's thrown.
There's always a lot of talk about wide receivers needing to create separation to help the quarterback find the right player open down the field. Manning is at the point now where he can place the ball where it needs to be and at the exact time a little separation has been created.
As you can see in the picture above, Manning has already begun throwing to the outside receiver before Welker had even turned his head. But as soon as he did, there was separation and the receiver had the ball in his hands with an opportunity to make a play.
Here's a live version of that touchdown pass.
These are the kinds of plays that you would expect to see from guys who have had a considerable amount of time playing together. So it's scary to think Welker and Manning haven't even completely clicked yet because they haven't had a whole lot of game time together.
These two plays show us Welker understands the communication Manning disseminates at the line of scrimmage and that they've spent a lot of time together working on those routes.
This was a match made in heaven not only because they are veteran players with a history of success, but also because they were willing to put in the time to develop this chemistry they're showing out on the field.
These two plays aren't displays of immense talent. Obviously talent is there, but it took some serious time and effort from these two guys to get these things down. It's safe to say they're only going to get better with more time together, and that won't be a good thing for opposing defenses for the rest of the season.
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